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How to beat your nerves

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How to beat your nerves

By: Daniel Bettridge

Everyone feels nervous from time to time, but how can you learn to control your nerves rather than letting them control you? We spoke to the experts to find out...

So you have a date, an important presentation at work planned or even a big sports game. You can't sit still, your palms are sweaty and you've got enough butterflies in your stomach to fill an enclosure at London Zoo. In other words you're nervous. It's only natural. In fact nerves are an everyday part of life that affect everyone, the trick is learning how to cope with them.

So how can you ensure that you control your nerves rather than letting them control you? Join us as we consult the experts to find out how to beat your nerves.

At work
Whether you're giving a big presentation, meeting a new client or just gearing up for a dreaded meeting with the boss; nerves are as much a part of our working lives as tea breaks and annual sickies. According to Lisa Turner from, there are two types of nerves that affect us in the workplace. The first is because something is new and we've never done it before: 'There's an element of the unknown and it makes us apprehensive,' says Turner.

The second type of nerves is more problematic, however, as it comes from us having tried something before and having had a negative experience. 'This sets up a fear loop where you find it hard to break out of the fixation that it will go wrong again,' Lisa says. 'Perhaps you gave a presentation that went badly and you felt humiliated... These painful emotions become coded in the mind so that every time you imagine doing that thing again, the same painful emotions become triggered.'

But what can we do to overcome these feelings? We've all heard the time honoured techniques of taking a deep breath before we go into a meeting or imagining our audience naked during our presentation but do these actually work?

According to Lisa, most people get this wrong. 'They take a deep breath and let it all out in a huff or a sigh. This can actually trigger more nerves in some people. Instead breathe in deeply and then make sure your out breath is at least twice as long as your in breath.'

Another technique which can be used to overcome nerves is positive thinking. The chances are that you're imagining something going badly, which is what's making you nervous. But what if you ignore the worst-case scenario and instead look on the bright side of life? Imagine yourself giving the best presentation of your life or acing that meeting with the new client; it's amazing how much changing the way you're thinking can change the way that you feel.

Meeting women
There's something about the fairer sex that can reduce even the most confident of men to a gibbering wreck. Nerves can scupper your chances of romance before they've even begun, so what can be done to overcome your emotional anxiety?

'Contrary to popular opinion women are not always put off by nerves, in fact they can find it endearing and meaningful that a guy is nervous in their presence,' according to relationship expert Marisa Peer. 'So don't worry about appearing a little anxious and instead make sure you know what you are going to say as stumbling over your words or going blank is not appealing.'

It almost sounds too easy, until of course you remember the terror you're likely to experience walking up to the girl for the first time. But aside from drinking the bar dry what else can men do to help to overcome their nerves when asking a woman out on a potential date?

'When you approach a woman always keep your shoulders down as it will make you feel more relaxed,' Marisa advises, 'and swig some water or swirl saliva around your mouth; as this signals to your body that you are relaxed even if you are not.'

As in many other situations, these nerves are unavoidable, so rather than worry about a cure, the key is to learn to cope and reduce the impact that they're likely to have on you. You never know, you might even end up enjoying them. After all, one of the most enjoyable parts of any new relationship is the nervous excitement that comes with first contact.

In sport
Whether you're a Sunday league wannabe or a professional athlete, nerves are par for the course for anyone who plays sport. The expectation of a big game or the challenge ahead fills us with excitement, but it can also be a hotbed for nerves and anxiety.

So how do you overcome this? We spoke to Sacha Harding a professional rugby player for leading Championship side Bedford Blues. Sacha's used to high-pressure situations, so what advice can he offer to sportsmen at any level, to help them combat their pre-game jitters?

'I personally find nerves an advantage in my pre-match preparation, ' he says. 'Nerves create excess energy... The heightened awareness from nerves helps me focus and work at a fast pace.'

It's all about preparation and learning to control your anxiety and focus the nervous energy you feel before any encounter.

'The most important thing to remember when you get nervous is that you have been here and done what you're about to do a thousand times before; the skills you have learnt over the years and years of training will not suddenly desert you now,' says Harding.

But the impact of nerves before sport aren't just physical, they're mental too and this can have a significant impact on our ability to perform. Professional athletes have teams of sports psychologists and coaches who are on hand to help them battle their inner demons, but what can we mere mortals do to overcome our pre-event jitters?

Dan Roberts, who has worked as a performance coach for top athletes, tells us:

'If you feel nervous stay away from caffeine and sugar. It'll only make you feel more anxious. And don't try and eliminate nerves. Accept they'll be there. It's normal. From weekend warriors to top pros you have to lose yourself in the moment and enjoy it, this lets your body do what it's supposed to do.

'Another tip is to ask yourself 'so what?' If you serve a double fault or hit a bunker shot people won't all stop in the street to point and laugh, your wife won't leave you. It's no big deal. Nerves are only a problem if you let the anxiety spin out of control. So expect them, and get on with the task in hand.'

It's sound advice, and whether you're at work, about to step onto the football field or plucking up the courage to talk to a girl in a bar; the key is to master your nerves rather than letting them master you. After all, everybody gets nerves, it's what you do with them that makes the difference.


How to beat your nerves

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